After five years in school, will homeschooling be a fit for our family? Walk with us as we try to find out!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Weekly Wrap Up: October 28, 2011

Joining the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers once again...

You know that old adage: Re-entry is usually bumpy?  (Maybe it's not an old adage but for the sake of a witty intro to this week's wrap up, can we pretend that it is?)  Well, my friends, re-entry was bumpy this week.  

I had a wonderful weekend away with my college roommates.  We slept late, ate whenever we felt like it, laughed until our sides ached, celebrated each other's joys and wept over one another's sorrows.  It was the first time in about six years that we were all together and we vowed not to let that much time pass again!  

Monday was re-entry to reality day for me and it was bumpy.  There was nothing in particular or out of the ordinary that made the day difficult.  It was just that getting back into the routine took some getting used to.  We ended the day with a play date at a new friend's house nearby.  It was good for all of us to get out and do something fun in the afternoon.

TS 2 began learning addition with regrouping this week.  I can't believe that I taught him how to do that!  I don't know why, but it feels great knowing I was the one to teach him something so new and important :)  

Tuesday is our Piano Lessons day.  Mr. B was pleased with the test subjects and remarked that TS 1's progress has been impressive.  I sensed TS 1 was moving quickly through the piano book.  He had taken a few lessons when he was 7, so he was not starting completely from scratch this time.  In some ways, I am not too surprised at his success with the piano so far.  This is who TS 1 is.  He is nothing if he is not determined.  And goal oriented.  Sometimes to a fault.  I am working with him on learning how to set realistic goals, actually, as it can be a problem when he fails to reach one of his lofty goals in the timeframe he expected.  All that to say, he was determined to "dominate" his piano book and move on to the next level, and by golly he did!  And yes, we are working on toning down the competitive streak as well :)  

RA was home sick on Wednesday so I missed my morning Bible study, this week.  It was a rough day.  Murphy's law reigned.  A little one with health issues, school with the boys, the upstairs toilet overflowed and I was not aware of it until I heard the water running down the wall on the first floor beneath the bathroom.  Later in the morning, I dropped a gallon of water on the kitchen floor.  And guess what, I cried over spilled water.  (And that concludes the cheesy cliches for this post.)

Thursday, however, was a stellar day!  RA was feeling better and went off to school in the morning.  The test subjects and I spent a quiet, productive morning at home.  I had a doctor's appointment after lunch so my mom came by to stay with the boys while they finished their independent work.  

On Friday morning, we bundled up and set out for co-op.  It was under 40 degrees at 9:30 a.m. when TS 1's PE class begins.  In case I have not whined about it enough, I am a PE assistant in both TS 1's and TS 2's classes.  I won't lie- it was cold.  I put on a happy face for the most part, though :)

The boys finished their Medieval Manuscripts in art.  They turned out great!  TS 1's manuscript is about...drum roll!

TS 2's manuscript is about Art in the Middle Ages.

I'm so thankful for this art class.  I would not have done half of these projects with the test subjects at home, yet they are so enriching to what they are learning in history.

TS 1 in learned about friction in Gizmos and Gadgets and made this fancy contraption to show the effect of friction on the movement of an object.  

TS 2 learned about the life cycle of a bee in his Honeybee class.

And guess what adorable pumpkin is going to be Worker of the Week at school next week?

We have a fun weekend planned!  Starting with pizza and a play date with some friends from church tonight, baseball clinic and Harvest Festival at church on Saturday, church on Sunday morning and a quiet (hopefully) afternoon afterwards.  

I hope you have a wonderful weekend with the ones you love!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Weekly Wrap Up: October 21, 2011

Kris from the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers blog has lost a dear friend suddenly.  As many in my community are trying to come to grips with a similar loss, I understand her bewilderment and grief.  If you are so inclined, click over to her blog and pray for Kris, her family and the family and loved ones of Christina.

I thought it would be fun to switch up my Weekly Wrap Up Post by trying a different format today.  Instead of sharing what we did each day this week, I thought I'd post about what each of the test subjects is working on in each academic area right now.

TS 1 had been working through How to Study Your Bible for Kids.  He really was not enjoying it at all and I think it was just a little bit too challenging for him.  My goals for BIble time for the boys is to spend time with God, to learn more about Him, to learn how to read and understand the Bible for themselves and to grow in their faith.  None of this will happen for TS 1 if he is miserable with the study guide he is using so we are switching gears.  Bible time was becoming frustrating and negative for him, so we are taking a break from How to Study Your Bible for Kids and instead reading through some of the Question and Answer pages of his Hands On Bible.  I ordered Starting Strong from Sonlight and hope it is more appropriate and enjoyable.

TS 2 has been working through Book B of Studying God's Word.  It is simple enough for him to work through fairly independently while learning important truths about God and His Word.  We discuss what he has read or completed each morning.  He seems to be enjoying it so far.

Language Arts:
TS 1 is working on Unit 2 of his Fifth Grade grammar book, Growing with Grammar. In Unit 1 he reviewed nouns and verbs, learned how to diagram simple and compound sentences as well as commands and questions, learned how to identify and correct run on sentences and learned how to use quotations.  In this unit, he is learning more about the different kinds of nouns as well as reviewing capitalization rules.

He is also working through the first and third units of the Student Writing Intensive from the Institutes for Excellence in Writing.  The lessons are presented on DVD every 2 weeks or so and then he works on completing the reinforcement activities in between the DVD segments.  His current lesson utilizes short fictional passages to teach the paragraph writing process from key word outline, to rough draft to final copy.  He is learning stylistic techniques along the way such as adverbial clauses, strong verbs and choosing a captivating title. I've noticed that he seems to enjoy the fictional passages much more than the non fiction ones.  I'm happy with his progress so far.

TS 2 is using Explode the Code Online for his phonics and spelling program.  Unfortunately, he does not enjoy it at all.  He complains that it is too babyish and easy for him.  He is actually a strong reader and speller so I am wondering whether I need a phonics program for him at all.  I am trying to decide if I should simply get him a stand alone spelling program and use that in conjunction with First Language Lessons and Writing with Ease(If you have a spelling program for second grade that you love, please share!)  First Language Lessons provides a gentle introduction to grammatical concepts as well as poem memorization.  Writing with Ease focuses on the skills of narration, dictation and copywork.  He enjoys working from both of these books, even when the content is challenging.  I think the exposure to and practice of skills such as narration are wonderful and quite unlike what he would be asked to do in a school setting.

TS 1 is working through selected lessons from the Delta Level of Math U See.  He is actually a strong math student but I decided to start him at the Delta level since he had been in a spiral math program at school.  Because Math U See is a mastery math program, I knew he would have to work through some of the Delta level division before proceeding to fractions in the Epsilon level.  He is moving through the selected lessons quickly so far.  

TS 2 is working through the Beta Level of Math U See.  He is doing just fine and so far has reviewed place value and addition facts, learned rounding, estimation and skip counting by 2s.  I also have him drill his addition facts everyday either online or via flashcards.

We are doing Units 1 and 2 of Year 2 of Tapestry of Grace for our history program.  This course of study will take us from the Fall of Rome through the Reformation.  Over the summer, we read Story of the World, Volume 1, The Ancients to bring us up to speed on world history for TOG.  So far, we have studied the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Eastern Orthodox Church.  This week, we are finishing up our lesson on the Rise of Islam.  

Each day, I read aloud a chapter for either Story of the World, Volume 2 or Famous Men of the Middle Ages to both test subjects while they work on a coloring page that is related to the chapter.  Then each TS has his own reading to do on his level.  TS 1 has been reading Story of the Middle Ages for the history component and Tales of the King Arthur for the literature component of the curriculum.  TS 2 is reading through the Usborne Internet-Linked Medieval World for his history component and he reads various related picture books for his literature component.

We also work on a map together for each lesson for Geography.  We are creating lapbooks as well to reinforce the information we are learning in history.  Here is a peek at our lapbooks so far:

Our other lead investigator, aka Dad, teaches science to the test subjects.  They are working through the Exploring Creation through Astronomy text and workbooks together.  They also do hands on projects related to the readings every other week.  They watch content related videos on You Tube and the Apologia website, too.  

So far, they have covered lessons on What is Astronomy, The Sun, Mercury and Venus.  They made a model using ballons to show the relative size of each planet and a instrument to use to view a solar eclipse.

My biggest contribution to science has been to stay out of their way :)

Foreign Language:
We have been using Rosetta Stone Homeschool Edition for our Foreign Language study.  Both boys had been learning Spanish at school beginning in pre-school.  My side of the family is Puerto Rican.  RA was born in Guatemala.   Latin American Spanish was the obvious choice for our our Foreign Language study right now.  Not to mention that fact that we live in a part of the country where many Spanish speakers live and work.

The test subjects tolerate this program but do not love it.  It's so funny because I thought these computer driven programs would be the most fun for the boys but that has not proven true.  The thing that frustrates them the most with Rosetta Stone is the pronunciation lessons, because try as they might, they are simply unable to produce the sounds the program is requiring at times.  We are going to continue to work through this curriculum, though.  My goal for Spanish at this point is simply to continually to expose them to the language, increasing their comprehension, vocabulary and communication.

TS 2 is working on the second grade level of A Reason for Handwriting.  He seems to enjoy it and I have definitely seen an improvement in his carefulness and neatness since we began.

TS 1 is developing keyboarding skills using Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.  He was enjoying it tremendously and asking to use it in his free time, even.  He was progressing very quickly at first and enjoying those results.  His speed of progress has slowed down a bit and he is frustrated with that.  We will continue to use this program and I'm helping him readjust his expectations for progress :)

Art/PE/Science Enrichment:
Each Friday at Co-op the boys take enrichment classes in Art, PE and Science.  The Art class is actually the fine arts component of our history curriculum so the projects they work on correlate almost perfectly with what we are studying each week in TOG.  So far, they have created a mosaic, a tapestry and a stained glass window.  I think I've posted pictures of all of these projects on this blog.

The PE classes at co-op are designed to enhance the physical fitness level of the students so each of our test subjects is learning age appropriate exercises to increase coordination, endurance, etc.  At the end of each PE class, the students play one or two fun games to wrap up.  The boys are also enrolled in a 6 week baseball clinic on Saturdays this fall.  TS 2 just began basketball practices again last week.

TS 1's science enrichment class is Gizmos and Gadgets.  Each week the students learn about a scientific concept and/or inventor and then create a gadget that models that concept in action.  This is a fun, hands on class that TS 1 seems to love.  I think I've posted descriptions and pictures of all his projects so far. 

TS 2's science enrichment class is all about the Honeybee.  They have brought in real insects to peer at through a magnifying glass.  They have seen a bee hive and tasted different kinds of honey.  It's a class he would never get at home with this bug phobic home school mama!

About a month ago, we began weekly private piano lessons here at home.  The boys have a wonderful, encouraging gentleman for a teacher, Mr. B.  As I've mentioned here before, they seem to be loving the piano and spend lots of time practicing.  I do not think I have had to remind them once to practice.  In fact, we've had to ask them to give our ears a rest at times!  Mr. B. remarked yesterday that they both have very strong fingers.  Could it be all the baseball they play in their free time???

I think that about covers it.  Writing it all out like that is encouraging.  They really are learning a lot!

How is your school year going so far?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Boys and Girls Learn Differently

As I mentioned in last week's Wrap Up Post, I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic PTO meeting at RA's school on How Boys and Girls Learn Differently presented by a Gurian Institute trained presenter.  Some of the information was familiar to me as I was a School Psychologist BC (BC= before children).  Much of it was new as advances in brain research have been significant in the past 10 years.

Since writing helps me organize, process and remember information, I decided to lay out the main points of the presentation that seemed most relevant to Our Great Homeschool Experiment here.  If it helps another homeschool (or homework duty) mom, that would be an added blessing!

Disclaimers:  My summations are based on my understanding of the material presented.  For the sake of simplicity, many generalization of how boys and girls learn follow.  Of course, human behavior falls along a continuum and boys and girls may exhibit behaviors typically attributed to the other gender.  This is normal!  I know I certainly see this diversity in each of my own children, and in myself and our other lead investigator, too.

Information Processing:
  • Boys process information through activity.  Activity creates a bond between the participants that enhances learning.  When you want to teach, discuss or discipline a boy, it is most effective to do so while engaging in an activity.    
  • Girls process information through verbal interaction.  Speaking and listening creates a bond than enhances a girl's learning.
  • Boys have less ability to use both parts of their brains at the same time.  They are better are focusing one task at a time. 
  • Girls have a more innate ability to make connections across activities and use both sides of their brains at the same time.
Pain Processing:
  • Pain in boys is transferred from the limbic system to the brain stem, the center of more basic and involuntary emotions.  Their typical response to pain is anger, sometimes followed by a physical reaction.  
  • Pain in girls is transferred from the limbic system to the frontal cortex, the thinking center of the brain.  Their typical response to pain is emotional, usually crying.
Bonding and Discipline:
  • Boys bond through activity, movement and even aggression.  When disciplining boys, do so in the context of a bonding activity that allows for movement.  Even going for a short walk together can help the process.  Help them redirect their anger and aggression to appropriate avenues (i.e., hitting a pillow, yelling into a pillow, ripping scrap paper, etc.)
  • Girls bond through relationship and emotions.  When disciplining girls, do so in the context of a loving relationship.  Allow for emotional expression. 
  • Boys need movement, activity, brain breaks to attend.  They are capable of short bursts of focused attention.  When their brain enters a rest state, it is almost completely at rest and needs an activity that will "wake it up."  (More on brain breaks below.)
  • Girls are capable of much longer spans of attention.  
Tips to Maximize Learning Potential in Boys and Girls:
  • Take a brain break at least once every 30 minutes.  These quick and easy activities take little time and serve to refresh the student's brain and revive it to a state optimal for learning.  Some ideas include: 

    • The Twist
    • Miss Mary Mack
    • Lunges
    • Sit-Ups
    • Push-Ups
    • I Spy
    • Twister
    • Bean Bag Fun-Various tossing games-stand on one foot, throw both hands
    Gotcha- Students all stand in a circle. Hold their right hand flat and their left hand with the pointer finger on the right hand of the person to their left. Play music. When the music stops, you are suppose to grab the persons finger with your right hand and at the same time pull your finger off of the person's hand next to you.

    Beach Volley Ball- Get a beach ball and play volley ball with it.

    Keep It Up- Using the beach ball, have the students try to keep the ball in the air without having it drop to the ground.

    Juggling- Juggle bean bags, etc.

    Core Matrix- Students sit on their legs (they are bent underneath them) and they lean backwards. They should feel the stress in the core of their body.

    Get Up and Dance- Play music and have the students dance.

    Wall Sits- Students lean against the wall for as long as they can.
    A quick google search will turn up many more brain break ideas!
  • Good nutrition, including a breakfast with protein, fiber and fatty acids, and lots of water.
  • 9-12 hours of sleep per night depending on the age of your children.
  • Listening to music as the children work.
  • Laugh often!
What are your tips for maximizing learning and attention?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Where the Magic Actually Happens

A month before we launched Our Great Homeschool Experiment, I published this post.  In it, I offered a glimpse into our schoolroom.  The round table and chairs in the center of that little room was where I envisioned we'd spend most of our homeschooling days.  Turns out that those chairs, while perfectly fine for an hour of two of homework a day, are a wee bit uncomfortable for hours on end.  Especially when a comfy couch and chairs beckon from a mere few feet away.

In light of that, I thought it was time you see where the magic actually happens.

The table and chairs are used for our assignment meeting each morning.  Dad conducts science class there two evenings a week as well.  

An occasional project is created there, too.  Other than that, they mostly serve to make the place look official.

Where does the magic happen for your family?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Weekly Wrap Up- The One In Which The Honeymoon Ended

Joining the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers once again...

Monday was Columbus Day and since RA had the day off from school, the test subjects and I took the day off, too.  It was a warm, sunny day so we met some friends at the beach for lunch and a play date.  The beach was mobbed as if it were the middle of the summer!  Then, TS 1 got motion sickness from whirling on the tire swing at the playground.  So, we left after about an hour, grabbed lunch at a local brick oven pizza place and then headed to our friends' house to play.  The four big boys played football on the front lawn while RA and my friend, M's, five year old played inside together.  While everyone played, M and I had some time to chat and catch up with one another, albeit constantly interrupted time :)

School got off to a delayed start on Tuesday as we had to take our minivan in for service.  I'm not sure if the test subjects were having a rough time getting back into the routine of school or what, but my "no whining during school rule" was flagrantly disregarded.  Our school day was l-o-n-g due to several trips to the bedroom to chill out and improve the attitude.

We also had Piano Lessons again on Tuesday.  Mr. B was pleased with their progress and so was I :)

On Tuesday night, I went to the monthly parent's meeting for our homeschool group.  It was a bit of a drive but I was so glad I went.  It was encouraging to hear that my kids are not the only ones prone to whine and complain during homeschool.  The meeting also reminded me of our reasons for homeschooling and analyze the whining and complaining more carefully.  Perhaps, a whiny test subject does simply need some time in his room for an attitude adjustment.  On the other hand, there might be times that the whining and complaining should prompt another response from me such as my reassessment of the workload, curriculum or schedule.  There might even be a spiritual issue that needs to be addressed such as lack of self-control, selfishness, impatience, etc.

On Wednesday morning, I set off for my Bible study, again.  I was able to bring a dear friend from the neighborhood who is enduring a terrible trial and it was a blessing to spend time with her.  Once again, the boys and I worked together before and after the study.  I was happy to see that they had completed all their independent work while I was gone!

On Wednesday night, I attended a fantastic PTO meeting at RA's school.  It was a presentation by a Gurian Institute trained presenter that highlighted the differences between how boys and girls learn.  I learned a lot and have some ideas I want to incorporate into our homeschool.  Once I digest all the information, I hope to share some of it here.

On Thursday morning, we went on another Field Trip with our homeschool group.  This time to a local museum that exhibits art and architecture from the Middle Ages.  TS1 was in a group whose guided tour focusing on medieval architecture.  TS 2's guided tour highlighted architecture as well as medieval art in tapestries, stained glass, manuscripts and frescos.  It was a fantastic trip and correlated beautifully with both our history curriculum and art class at co-op.

We did get some work done at home before and after the field trip, but not nearly what I had hoped for.  More flagrant disregard for the "no whining" rule caused me to realize the homeschool honeymoon was indeed over.  It was bound to happen and I knew it would.  Now, the experiment really begins, does it not?

TS 1 had his first basketball practice on Thursday evening.  He's going to be playing on the fifth grade basketball team of the school he attended.  This is the third year many of the boys are playing together and he is very excited about the season.

Bright and early on Friday morning, we set out for co-op.  It was rainy so PE classes were held indoors, which worked out just fine. 

The boys created stained glass windows in art class.  TS 2's is complete but TS 1 has a little more to do to finish his masterpiece.

TS 1 in learned more about gravity in Gizmos and Gadgets and made a marble maze.  

TS 2 tasted different varieties of honey in his Honeybee class and declared them all "yucky!"   

After co-op, we went to a meet up at the ice rink with fellow home schoolers.  The boys had a wonderful time.  This is a monthly event in the Fall and Winter and we hope to attend most of them.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Weekly Wrap Up: October 7, 2011

Joining the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers once again...

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?  I always think I want the good news first.  Then the whole time I'm listening to the good news, I'm worrying in the back of my mind about what the bad news could be.  So, I'll spare you the angst and start with the bad news, first.  (Oh, and welcome to my own special brand of crazy :)

We had our first tears shed during school this week.  On Monday, one of our test subjects was having trouble grasping a new concept in math.  After a few frustrating moments, he burst into tears.  We have a rule in our homeschool, which I've been rattling off since we began.  There is no crying or whining during school.  If you cannot work with a cheerful spirit, then your options are: pray with mom for a change of heart and keep working, pray on your own for a change of heart and keep working and/or go to your room for a rest or to read.  So I reiterated the rule and he pulled himself together within a few minutes.  The lesson continued to be challenging all week but I am proud of how he kept at it!

Now for the good news- and there's plenty of it!  

After we picked up RA from school on Monday, we headed to the library for some books.  TS 2 has always been a reluctant independent reader.  He often chooses books that are below his reading level simply so that he can breeze through it and say, "I finished the book!"  In the Writing with Ease Curriculum I am using with him, he is being exposed to passages from some wonderful children's books and seems interested in most of them.  We borrowed two of these books on Monday and he is currently enthralled with the adventures of Doctor Dolittle.  It is so much fun to see him captivated by a book, to hear him laughing out loud as he reads in the next room and to listen to his recap of the story each afternoon!

We wrapped up our Monday with dinner and a play date with friends and fellow homeschoolers from our church.  We all enjoyed the fellowship.  And even when there was the occasional skirmish among the children (there were 11 of them all together!), my friend reminded me to let them alone to "get socialized!"  Laughter is good for the soul :)

Tuesday was a productive day at home.  The highlight of Tuesday was RA's participation in an after-school American Girl Doll club.  Since she just had a birthday and she has her Papa and Abuelita wrapped around her little finger, she had her very own American Girl doll, Molly, to bring to the club with her.  She came home with a grin from ear to ear!    

We also had Piano Lessons again on Tuesday.  I'm so pleased that the boys are both super motivated to practice and are hitting the keys on their own several times a day.

Wednesday brought the switched up schedule with it again so I could attend my Bible study.  (In case you're wondering, we are reading Spiritual Parenting together and I love it so far.)  The boys and I worked together before and after the study.  Then they did some independent work while I was gone such as DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read), Piano Practice, Online Math Drills, etc.  We finished up when I got home.  I even had the opportunity to grab a quick lunch with two moms from school in the afternoon and it was truly a blessing.  These types of days are life giving for me and I am truly grateful for them!

On Thursday afternoon, we went on our first Field Trip!  After completing our work in the morning, we had a quick lunch and headed to a local piano store for a presentation on the history of the instrument, a glimpse at the inner workings of the piano and the opportunity to listen to it played by a skilled pianist.  The boys even got to tickle the ivories on some beautiful pianos after the presentation.  We enjoyed our first field trip and learned a lot in the process. 

Before our field trip, though, we were treated to RA's Superstar Interview in Kindergarten.  Over the weekend we made a poster that was all about RA.  It has been prominently displayed in her classroom all week.  On Thursday morning, her teacher and classmates "interviewed" her while we watched and listened.  It was very sweet- especially for me since I've seen all three of my children take part in this now!

Friday is co-op day and once again we were blessed with sunny Fall weather.  The boys finished up their Medieval Tapestries in Art.  

TS 1 in learned more about gravity in Gizmos and Gadgets while TS 2 learned about pollen and the parts of a flower in his Honeybee class.    

And the free time that was so elusive when the test subjects were in school was available in abundance again this week :)

Hope you have a wonderful weekend with the ones you love!